By Aziz Ali Dad
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to diverse linguistic, religious and ethnic groups. During the last two decades the word culture has become very popular among the people there, the youth in particular. That is why culture is invoked by different sub-regional groups, nationalists and language communities to lend legitimacy to their respective causes.
However, the debate about culture in Gilgit-Baltistan does not stem from a clear definition. Within localised discourse the very word ‘culture’ is employed to signify an assortment of things, ranging from history, tradition, mythology, rituals, folk literature, cuisine, material heritage, dance, art to entertainment and incompatible entities. That means that the word culture is internalised not in all its theoretical purity, rather it has been appropriated by different groups to provide a unifying point for their practices and ideas, which are not always shared by all people in society.
A practice or act becomes part of culture when its meaning is shared by the members of a society. The signifying practices in society tie its diverse members within the unifying whole of culture. For the last ten years the region of Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed a mushrooming of organisations that claim to protect and promote culture. Most of their effort aim to revive rituals and lifestyles that were products of a bygone age and space, which was to a great extent immune from external influences.
An analysis of prevalent practices that have been covered under the rubric of the culture of Gilgit-Baltistan shows that the very debate over culture and efforts of cultural revival stems from an identity crisis begotten by disruption of power centres in society. A society sans power and authority of culture operates in an ideological vacuum. Such a rudderless society is more likely to be at the mercy of forces that have the power to change its course. Similar is the case with the culture of Gilgit-Baltistan.
A culture with a vacuum of political, economic and intellectual power within cannot survive the changes of time. But narcissistic and nostalgic guardians of culture in the region tend to ignore the very question of power in culture for fear of actors who subjugate culture either for their myopic agenda or support the status quo to perpetuate existing power arrangements. They remain oblivious to the obsolete nature of certain practices and rituals, increasing role of modern means of cultural production and subjugation of culture to a sectarian form of religion.
Gone are the days when local princely states in the region decided about their fate. The people of Gilgit Baltistan had to rely on locally available intellectual resources to create their life world. With the dissolution of local power centres and social structure, and dominance of new lifestyle and ideas, the role of exogenous forces has become more important.
There are internal and external dimensions of power. The new and modern power structure permeates every aspect of life and yields its influence in imperceptible ways. The collective power of a particular society in the modern age manifests in the form of political authority. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan the disconnect between culture and power is best evident at the political and constitutional level in Pakistan where it is still in a state of limbo.
Now the question that arises is: where does the internal power or authority lie? Matthew Arnold in his book ‘Culture and Anarchy’ terms culture as the centre of authority in a society where state and religion fails. Since this authority is internal, it is, therefore, imperative to develop a counter-narrative and strategies against the actors and factors that inhabit or are in control of the internalising process by establishing their hegemony over society and state.
The structural hegemony over cultural transmission and communication can be illustrated through the example of local languages in Gilgit-Baltistan. Language contains the whole life world of a particular culture. It is through language that human beings connect with the world and form their selves through interaction with the society, collective consciousness, and historical memory.
With the dissolution of the old order in the region the connection between language and the world was severed. It is not necessary that a rupture in continuity always lead to total disengagement with the fountainhead of culture. Modern schooling could have provided a strong platform for indigenous languages to further cement the bond between language and the world. Being powerless the society of Gilgit-Baltistan was not able to do so.
Another factor that is playing a crucial role in the formation of contemporary culture in Gilgit-Baltistan is the modern means of cultural production and communication. The communication revolution of today has rendered all the traditional and even early modern mediums obsolete. Along with these mediums, the associated processes of message formation have also been rendered obsolete.
In the early period of modernity in Gilgit, modern mediums, such as cinema, radio, newspapers, magazines, television and to some extent rudimentary theatre found a space within society. These developments could have paved the way for new modes of cultural production or activities. Unfortunately, society took a different turn under the influence of commercialisation and conservatism fostered by clerics who are averse to every novel medium and message. Today the cultural landscape in Gilgit has been turned into a wasteland as cinema, theatre, entertainment and other modern forms of aesthetics were nipped in the bud.
Culture is a space for interface between the internal and the external. Therefore, internalisation is considered an important process in cultural refinement. By creating a habitus for beauty, civility, rationality, and empathy in the external world, we can create a mental ambience for the emergence of the cultured self.
In the existing scheme of things in Gilgit-Baltistan, the clergy has assumed authority and subjugated all other sides of human personality to the religious. Religion is a part of the whole called culture, but it is subsumed under religion. Today the external world or society of Gilgit-Baltistan is filled with religious hatred. Therefore, the prevalent cultural ethos is marked by sectarianism, which manifests itself in bloodshed, mayhem and chaos in society.
Matthew Arnold believes that religion is only one of the many voices of human experience. A society dominated by religiosity is inimical not only to multiplicity of experiences and expressions, but also to the very experiences of the religion. Religion can freely express itself in its varied forms only by blending within a particular culture. However, because of its blind zeal of painting everything in the world in religious colours, the religious thought police has reduced diverse ways of religious expressions and interpretations into a monomaniac mode.
After capturing religious space and imaginary, this mind is intruding into the cultural space. Emancipating culture from the clutches of parochial authority will not only enable it to flourish, but also open multiple avenues for religious experience and expression.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad and can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Izhar Hunzai
The wheat subsidy system under the Civil Supply Act was extended to GB in the 1990s as an important component of Pakistan’s social safety net, helping to protect the poor against food shortages in these remote areas. Since the establishment of this subsidy, no significant effort has been made to evaluate the efficacy, cost efficiency and positive or negative impacts of this program. The new government is under tremendous pressure from Pakistan’s creditors to remove all subsidies. A sudden removal of this subsidy, which has deeply distorted markets and altered food production systems in GB, will trigger a new crisis in this already volatile and vulnerable area.
A White Elephant
The Department of Agriculture has estimated that this highly subsidized program costs close to PKR 1.5 billion per annum, which translates into a general subsidy of about PKR 15,000 on a per capita basis, or PKR 75,000 for a family of seven members. If the urban population of GB is excluded from this calculation, this subsidy amounts to even higher. This constitutes a huge part of the resources allocated to GB by the Federal Government. However, much of this huge subsidy is a huge white elephant as more than half of this amount is leaked from the system through corruption. If we include wastage, low quality, distortion of local markets and production systems, the benefits are even fewer compared to the high cost.
It is clear that the current system of procuring large amounts of grain from the plains of Punjab, transporting it all the way to remote corners of GB, storing it at various locations and administering and monitoring a large distribution network is highly inefficient. It serves neither the interest of the Government nor the poor families for whom this subsidy is intended. A careful revamping of this large and untargeted subsidy can result in real benefits.
While a proper study is needed to fully assess the flaws of the current system and to suggest alternative ways to ensure food security for the poorest and the needy, this summary presents a number of quick options to reform this wasteful program in its current form.
Alternatives to Reform this System
Food vouchers – Giving power to the beneficiary
The current cumbersome system can be replaced by a simple food voucher scheme for the poorest households, who are roughly estimated be 25% of the population. A one-time survey can be conducted in each UC with the help of LSOs and the local Zakat Committees, to identify those who live below the poverty line. These vouchers would be redeemable at private shops. The shop owners can exchange the collected vouchers for cash through easy paisa. The availability of ‘food purchasing power’ in remote rural arras will stimulate food production and rural food markets will sprout.
The food vouchers can be classified into two income categories: Red Vouchers for the most vulnerable with income less than half of the poverty line, and Yellow Vouchers for those who are just below the poverty line, which is PKR 8,800 per year. The red Vouchers would be valued at PKR 5,000, while the yellow vouchers can carry a face value of PKR 3,000, and can be given once a year.
Even if people trade these vouchers for cash to pay for other needs, such as the education of their children, it would not matter much because these are poor people, and it would still be part of the state’s social safety net.
This approach would also help minimize the growing problem of unemployment, and even provide an opportunity for women to engage in self-employment in their own villages. The food vouchers could cover not just wheat, but a “basket” of food items for a balanced diet, including maize, potatoes, and honey produced in surplus in GB, which is difficult to market in down country, thus creating a beneficial effect on local agricultural production and income. Once the survey is conducted and the poorest of the poor are identified, the cost of administering and monitoring this system would be minimum.
The total cost of subsidizing access to food in this manner would be only a fraction of the current cost, considering an average subsidy of PKR 4,000 for 25,000 families believed to be below the poverty line in GB. In this option, there is flexibility to increase the average level of subsidy or increase the number of households served, or even add other needs, such as primary education.
This would do away with the hugely inefficient government procurement, storage and distribution operations. The storage infrastructure can be leased out to local companies for storing potato seed, which is a major constraint, thus generating revenue for the government. The savings in the annual budget in this sector in one year alone would be more than enough to make generous severance payments to redundant civil supply employees, thus reducing annual recurring budget for the government. Moreover, the resulting competition among shops to attract these vouchers from consumers would minimize irregularities: customers with food stamps would visit shops that did not impose illicit fees or shortchange customers on either quantity or quality.
The system can effectively address the diversion of supplies and curb the losses during transportation.
Increasing local production of wheat
The government can make a five-year plan to remove the subsidy in three stages. In the first two years, Rs. 500 million should be given, each to a) food vouchers, b) agricultural research and extension and, c) for expanding landholdings through irrigation and land development schemes. In 3-4 years the funding for funding for land expansion can be phased out, and in year five food vouchers can be withdrawn, after a proper survey.
As referred to earlier, there are local and better nutritional alternatives to the mite-infested wheat procured from down country and transported on a 1000 km journey. These include meat, maize, buckwheat, potatoes and honey, which are nutritionally superior, and locally produced in significant quantities. Poor people are adaptable to a slight change in nutritional habits, which would require a small additional effort.
The grenade attacks targeting two Shia Ismaili jamaatkhanas in Karachi on Tuesday, in which a woman and her child were killed, are yet another indicator of where Pakistan stands after over six decades of its creation. Once again we have proof of how far we are from the dream of a pluralistic, inclusive state in which Muslims of various persuasions as well as citizens of other faiths were meant to live peacefully without having to contend with the tactics of a violent minority seeking to impose its extremely narrow interpretation of faith on them. In this case, as in so many other instances of terrorism before it, senior police officials suspect the involvement of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi — an Ismaili doctor had given evidence against the militants currently on death row. However, there have also been reports that the Ismaili community has been receiving threats from the TTP. Indeed, let alone religious minorities who have all too often faced the wrath of the militants, no sect within Islam seems to have been spared either. Shias, Barelvis, Sufis and Deobandis not subscribing to the militant worldview have been killed individually and collectively. Last year, Dawoodi Bohras joined the list as a predominantly Bohra neighborhood in Karachi was bombed, while community members were also shot in Hyderabad. And now, the Shia Ismailis have become the latest Muslim group to be attacked.
The Ismailis are a peaceful, progressive and largely apolitical community that has done much for Pakistan’s health and education sectors, especially in regions where the government has failed. In the past there has been anti-Ismaili violence in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, mostly in the form of communal flare-ups. But the Karachi attacks bear the all the hallmarks of the militants. What should the state’s response be, apart from issuing the usual condemnations and orders for increased security at places of worship? The answer seems deceptively simple: the authorities must take decisive action against violent non-state actors with sectarian and militant agendas. But of course the million-dollar question is: will it?
By Jawed Naqvi
PEACE activists opposed to the nuclear weapons tests and other aggressive announcements by India last week should take heart from the truth that in democracies jingoism doesn’t always reward its protagonists.
Yes, militarist quests could become a means to subvert democracy itself, which is another story.
Take President Obama’s sabre-rattling in the far corners of the globe, for example, a volte-face from his early promise of peace, or the clutch of bloody wars waged by his predecessors. They had to be rooted in a subversion of the flaunted American democracy.
We need not look beyond Messrs Edward Snowden’s and Julian Assange’s cargo of bald facts to figure out how genuine democracies must become opaque to their people before embarking on militarist adventures.
As democrats go, Winston Churchill, Golda Meir, Jimmy Carter, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee were some of the victims of successful or failed military or militarist projects launched. They were rejected by the people they sought to woo.
Yes, there were apparent exceptions. Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher are thought to have led popular military enterprises, but scanning their electoral successes reveals a different possibility.
Their popularity may have been linked more to their tackling of troubled domestic economies (the means notwithstanding) rather than on their gambling on, say, the Falklands war or on mopping up the Second World War with a nuclear assault on Japan.
Before looking at the electoral failure of Churchill and others on the heels of their fabled military leadership, it would help to consider a few facts closer to home.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose favourite military pastime was to fight the ragtag Maoists at home, may have been pushed by his advisors to bluff his way out of a diplomatic pickle, a crisis triggered recently by an unexplained incident at the Pakistan border.
If the Indian claim of Pakistan’s culpability is right, then the Pakistani security establishment and the right-wing Indian opposition have acted to give the Indian prime minister a bloody nose. This could be their way of reminding him and his Pakistani counterpart not to get too enthusiastic about a proposed meeting in New York next month.
To add to his woes, Dr Singh’s Congress party increasingly finds itself locked in competitive jingoism with the right-wing opposition, which in turn strikes an uncanny resonance with the leftist opposition strangely enough.
Last week’s unsheathing of India’s first nuclear submarine, clubbed with the inauguration of the country’s much headlined aircraft carrier and the test of a nuclear capable (and Pakistan-specific) surface-to-surface missile may have been Dr Singh’s way of getting even with his jingoist critics at home.
If he looked over his shoulders, however, he would find popular characters from history laid low on the battlefield of jingoism, some familiar faces, others less well known.
Indira Gandhi had to hitch her military victory over Pakistan to a slogan of fighting poverty at home to sweep the polls in 1972. When she was convinced it was her military prowess that got her the votes, she tried her luck with a nuclear test in 1974. Next year she was forced to suspend democracy, and when she revived it two years later the people she sought to woo rejected her.
Mr Vajpayee carried out his own set of nuclear tests in May 1998, his government declaring China as the reason. His party was routed in the next tranche of elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. It has never retrieved Delhi from the Congress.
It was then that Vajpayee trudged to Lahore with a peace proposal but it was already too late. An ally had pulled the rug from under his feet. Vajpayee lost a trust vote in parliament.
The Kargil war is thought to have helped his lame duck government’s return to power, but that was only with the help of a desperately assembled coalition, never on his own steam. His 2002 military deployment against Pakistan added to his woes with the tired voters who dumped his party in the 2004 elections.
The image of prime minister Narasimha Rao in his dhoti and angavastram kicking up clouds of dust aboard the homebuilt Arjun battle tank at a trial in early 1996 was not good enough to give him a second mandate in elections a few months later.
Rajiv Gandhi may have grabbed some military advantage in the Siachen Glacier but his unprecedented majority in parliament was handed a rude jolt in the next election.
Similarly, Z.A. Bhutto may have offered to drastically compromise on the quality of the nation’s tiffin box in order to get the bomb, but when the military took charge of his destiny there were few on the street to protest.
Churchill’s defeat at the hustings soon after his popularity rating touched an unparalleled 83pc came as a shock to the world, but his drubbing had followed an established logic.
Golda Meir won brownie points when she disguised herself as an Arab for a failed secret meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah. But when she won the 1973 war against her Arab foes, she was forced to quit as prime minister. As president, Jimmy Carter may have scripted the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, but he lost the election in 1980.
With this hindsight of history, it would be advisable for Dr Singh to heed the angry peace activists rather than ignore their warnings.
As the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace reminded India the other day, brandishing “these tools of mass destruction as guarantees of national security while ignoring the issues of real safety, security and well-being of the Indian people demonstrates a perverse pathology”.
Naming the submarine ‘Arihant’ after a holy figure from Jainism which stands for peace is yet another cruel irony similar to ‘the Buddha smiled’ code for the 1974 nuclear test.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
By I A Rehman
JUDGING from media reports the much heralded national security plan to counter terrorism appears to be wanting in certain critical areas.
The mood of earnestness in dealing with militancy in various forms displayed by the interior minister on his latest visit to Quetta had encouraged the hope that the recent incidents of terrorism, especially the raids on the D.I. Khan jail and the Quetta police lines, had persuaded the government to give the matter the priority it deserved.
Some other welcome indications included the admission that the challenges to the Balochistan government constituted a threat to the whole of Pakistan.
One was reminded of the Indian viceroy’s rejoinder to Winston Churchill when the latter had asked him to do more for the war against the Fascists because Britain was fighting for India’s freedom. The truth was that India was fighting for Britain’s freedom, Lord Linlithgow had said and expressed his inability to impose more taxes on the colony’s poor people.
If Islamabad has realised that instead of the federation fighting Balochistan’s battles it is Balochistan that is fighting for the federation’s cause it will be able to better appreciate its obligation to stand by that province.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was off the mark when he said that the country was facing invisible enemies for the latter have concealed neither their identities nor their designs. But he was quite right in pointing out that the source and nature of the threat varied from province to province. That only underlined the need to provide for province-specific tactics within the overall national security strategy.
Since the preparation of the national security policy had begun before the interior minister’s visit to Balochistan it is not clear whether his assessment of the situation there has contributed anything to the draft policy. One would be sorry if it hasn’t, because Balochistan will be a test case for any security policy.
For quite some time the media has been reporting that the authorities favour a five-point security policy: dismantle (destruction of terrorist networks); contain (pushing the militants and confining them to a specified area); prevent (fresh incidents of terrorism); educate (the people about the evil of terrorism); and reintegrate (with society those who abandon the path of terrorism/militancy).
These points are widely known chapter titles in any anti-terrorism manual. What matters is the text of these chapters and details of the means and methods required for achieving the desired result.
Besides, it is necessary to allay the misgivings born of the experience of such strategies in various parts of the world over the past many years. The common tendency to abridge human rights and deviate from due process in the name of security imperatives has been found to be counterproductive and must be guarded against.
The task of containing the terrorists/militants within small areas looks specially daunting because they already occupy large areas. No part of the country is out of their reach. Where they can be confined is not very clear.
Reintegration of militants can only follow their de-radicalisation and our experience in that area over the past few years offers little room for optimism. An official spokesman was quite categorical when he told the Peshawar High Court that all de-radicalised warriors had rejoined their units.
Further, no security plan, however perfect, can bear fruit without an efficient implementation machinery and an ideological framework backed by the united will of the state. The draft policy reportedly calls for a consensus among all parties. One wonders how the religious parties will be persuaded to condemn the militants.
It is also said that all institutions of the state should be on the same page. This is a crucial condition because Pakistan’s problems have been considerably aggravated by lack of unity among security organisations on ways of dealing with terrorists/militants.
The idea of having a coordinating cell within the interior ministry is sound but will this cell have the means of taming the actors whose autonomy has so far remained unchallenged? Maybe, a ministerial body headed by the prime minister himself should oversee the policy’s enforcement.
If the five-point strategy is all that the national security policy is about, it offers no answer to the political and ideological thrust of the militants’ challenge. For instance, in Balochistan terrorism has three faces — the nationalists who have given up on Pakistan, the Punjab-based anti-Shia brigade, and an alliance of rogue elements from the security personnel and privileged gangsters.
Only the doings of the last mentioned group can be dealt with as a law and order matter. The former two groups will not yield to force alone. A settlement with the alienated nationalists will require a political process and stemming the anti-Shia wave will need rethinking of ideology, both tasks beyond the capacity of security experts.
In the rest of the country too matters will only be partly addressed by a more stringent policing. Eventually the state will have to reckon with the ideological claims of the militants. It is their religious slogan that enables the militants to find collaborators in their increasingly audacious attacks on the Pakistan state. The fact is that Pakistan’s organised sectors, and not educational institutions alone, are creating more militants year after year than the number the security forces can eliminate or neutralise.
So long as the state continues to compete with the militants on the religious wicket the security plans will remain halfway houses to nowhere. The basic choice is simple. A theocracy will attract one wave of militancy after another; security lies only in building a democratic, pluralist state.
By Saranjam Baig
BUILDING peace in Gilgit-Baltistan is not a matter of virtue or high moral principle; it is one of necessity and the survival of the people of the region.
Building and sustaining peace is an ongoing process of reform with no clear beginning or end, but introducing a set of reforms is a necessary condition towards the settlement of sectarian issues.
The generic policies introduced by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan in the last two decades have failed to address the issue of sectarian violence.
The reason seems simple; the government was unable to identify the prevalent market and government failures; and thus couldn’t design relevant public policies to address these failures.
Although, given the severity of the problem, a whole laundry list of failures can be presented, the following four, being the mother of all other policy lapses, merit our attention.
First, there can be a causal relationship between sectarian violence and socio-economic factors. Sectarian violence can impede the process of development whereas few economic opportunities have the potential to exploit the situation to generate violence.
According to Hussain Asghar, a former inspector general of the Gilgit-Baltistan police, the high unemployment rate coupled with the high literacy rate is one of the reasons for sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan.
As development funds have more often than not been diverted towards security needs, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan has been unable to match employment opportunities with the burgeoning labour force.
Likewise, the shrinking of both the tourism sector and of non-profit ventures, which were the major source of employment, is deepening the crisis.
The reverberations of this unmanaged recession are manifesting themselves in the form of sectarian violence. However, the government has not even taken up a single policy reform to address this cause of sectarian violence.
Second, in the past, religious bigotry, myths, misinformation for private gains, and lack of trust had been at the centre of the problem.
Nosheen Ali, a professor at Stanford University, in her study on sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan, focused on a classroom situation in Gilgit city where the students were asked to specify their sect on a form: “In my class, I noticed that children were now more aware of each other’s sect. They started to self-segregate, with Sunni ones sitting and socialising with other Sunnis, Shias with Shias, and so on. Several teachers noticed this tendency in their classrooms.”
Imagine the future of these primary school kids who were interacting with their classmates through suspicion and resentment. This ‘sectarian imaginary’ originates from myths — the myths about other sects these students hear either from older people in the streets or from their own parents.
And sooner or later these myths will become the reason for violence of which the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan have been the victims for the last two decades.
Moral suasion that has been the only policy to address this failure seems to be inadequate and a more nuanced policy that also targets curriculums to enhance critical thinking would be appropriate.
In addition, according to one study, democratic governance plays an important role in sustaining peace within societies. While introducing the concept of bad leaders, this study considers them responsible for state failure, which seems applicable to the leaders of Gilgit-Baltistan.
During an episode of intermittent sectarian strife some time back, the head of the Gilgit-Baltistan government couldn’t even make himself available in the region.
The so-called religious leaders are alleged to have hijacked the system by threatening and blackmailing the government for their own sectarian interests. The government seemed paralysed and finally the army stepped in to handle the security situation.
It was a complete failure of democracy as representatives of the people couldn’t voice their voters’ interests. For some, the kind of sectarian influence exercised would rival that of a government.
In such a scenario, the public policy should be to reduce the self-proclaimed arbitrary powers of the clergy while empowering the elected representatives. However, in stark contrast to policy requirements, the government is actually empowering the de facto rulers — the clergy — by constituting ulema boards.
The bottom line is, the democratic system in Gilgit-Baltistan presents itself as a candidate for a major revamp that should include the possibility of a power-sharing formula between the two major sects.
Finally, more often democracy failures are accompanied by bureaucratic failures as a result of a principal-agent problem. The principal is the elected representative in this case, and is weak, thus creating an opportunity for the bureaucracy to shirk its responsibilities.
Working for sect-based interests in the bureaucracy has interrupted the transparent system leading to massive corruption that I call the violence corruption. Violence corruption is widespread, systematic and often interlinked, yet another barrier in building sustainable peace in the region.
Take one instance. According to official estimates; the government of Gilgit-Baltistan spends Rs600 million annually for maintaining peace.
The peace maintenance package includes increased salaries/allowances, luxurious vehicles for officers’ use, rent-seeking opportunities and lack of proper monitoring and accountability mechanisms, thus creating room for massive corruption.
Therefore, the bureaucracy might deliberately affect the peace-building process by creating barriers which involve incompleteness and vagueness in agreements, and lack of coordination between those who mediate peace agreements and those who must implement them. Hence, the bureaucracy failure leads to implementation failure.
Peace in Gilgit-Baltistan might not prevail without the existence of an honest and well-oiled bureaucracy, and therefore, attaching priority to merit and introducing legislation for accountability and transparency in policies would go some way in reversing the situation as it is today.
The writer is a doctoral student at the Claremont Graduate University, Los Angeles.
By Israr Uddin Israr
An in-depth study of current political history of Gilgit-Baltistan reveals the actual situation and reasons of powerlessness of existing political parties and their leadership in GB.
Modern period in the political history and political processes in GB started from 1974 with the abolishment of FCR and princely states in GB. For the first time the practice of elections on party basis in Gilgit-Baltistan started in November 1994. The last election of GB assembly constituted under the GB empowerment and self-Governance order 2009 was the fourth election contested on party basis, whereas, since the establishment of advisory council in 1972 it was tenth election in the region.
Although, there were political movements in GB before abolishment of FCR, like a movement started in early fifties against it (FCR) which caused 7 causalities in Punial Tehsil of Ghizer; agitation also occurred in Hunza and Nagar as well. In the early fifties a local nationalist political group named Millat Party was formed in Gilgit headed by Mr. Johar Ali khan advocate. However, despite of these undercurrents, due to FCR there was no room for the political activities in GB from 1947 to 1974.
The “Golden Period of political activism, so to say, started soon after abolishment of FCR, which allowed political activities in the region. The first local right based political party “Milat Party” was merged into Pakistan Pople’s Party (PPP) by its leadership after the promise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to abolish the FCR from the region. It seems that the ultimate objective of Millat party was the abolishment of FCR.
Now the ground was empty after the FCR to play an effective role by political leadership. But due to the conspiracies of outside bureaucracy with the help of local clergy, the political leadership was precluded from playing its role and political activities were banned in the region again.
The local administration showed high handedness to local people, which led to an attack on Gilgit jail by large numbers of local people who broke into the jail and released political activists who were incarcerated for agitating against the local administration.
After that incident the local administration devised a long term strategy to weaken the political leadership in the region. The strategy involved enabling the formation of an alliance between the bureaucracy and the clergy. From there on both, the clergy and the bureaucracy, became became more powerful actors in the local political arena.
In 1980s the region witnessed emergence of NGOs on the screen. These NGOs attracted the people due to their fascinating slogans of development. The NGOs took over the responsibility of development. Instead of government local people considered NGOs as their service providers in the fields of education, irrigation, livestock, agriculture, health and building the basic infrastructure and social development. The mere political activity in the region was to engage with these NGOs, while the whole Government machinery was in relaxed mood due to lack of public pressure and no criticism on their performance. So the NGOs were the third nail in the coffin of political parties after the clergy and bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy, clergy and NGOs were the three main factors that led to the depoliticization of the whole society of Gilgit-Baltistan. Still these three segments are the centers of power. A lay man considers these the real providers of security, jobs, shelter etc. While the political segment of society has a weak say in the society. Politician themselves need the support of above mentioned three segments. Main power in politics is lacking while the cream of society is harnessed by those three elements.
The ground in GB has generally not been feasible for political movements to flourish. Therefore, almost every political movement has been initiated outside of GB, like the Karakorum Students Organization (student wing of Karakuram National Movement), Balawaristan National Front, Baltistan Student’s Federation and the Ghizer Students federation etc. were formed in Karachi in late sixties and eighties.
These secular and nationalistic movements were gradually increasing their influence in the society of GB but the sectarian clash in 1988 sabotaged all political efforts. Later on Gilgit-Baltistan National Alliance (GBNA), an alliance of 14 political parties of GB, and Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance, which was alliance of 5 nationalist parties of GB, had also increased the political awareness by their campaigns, but the murder of Agha Ziauddin Rizvi of 2005 and ongoing sectarian violence sabotaged the efforts of both alliances.
The weak element among above mentioned three segments is the NGOs which seeks the support of bureaucracy and clergy. The latter mentioned two segments have shifted their pressure to NGOs for taking the responsibility of service provision. I am an eye witness of an event, when some people blocked the road in Silpli village of Punial accusing an NGO of not providing teachers in a school in the village established by that NGO. When I asked one of the protesters whether they have Government schools in their village or not? He replied, no. Then I asked why he had not protested against the Government for not providing the school in the area? He had no answer. But I understood that they were not aware about the responsibility of Government because the responsibility has been taken by the NGO. There are so many examples in the field of health, agriculture and development. Apart from it these NGOs engaged the ‘cream’ from among the local people who could, otherwise, have played a good role to activate the Government functionaries.
On the other hand to carry out political activity means to oppose the three segments. Therefore, people do not like to detach themselves from the power centers and people hate the politics and not ready to guide their children to choose the field of politics due to fear of clergy and establishment.
The result of above mentioned trend is that we have no visionary political leadership in the region that will be able to utilize the strategic importance and natural resources of the region to improve the living standard of people. More than fifteen main stream political parties of Pakistan have their provincial chapters in GB but they are silent on the issue of political rights of GB. The available political cadre who represents the main stream political parties in GB is on the pay role of establishment because the establishment and clergy are the centers of powers. Chief Minister, Governor and ministers are just puppets. The GB empowerment and self-Governance 2009 is nothing more than a new face of previous LFOs and the new names of old public office holders. Nationalist parties have lost their trust due to their wrong strategies. While some progressive parties have recently attracted hundreds of youth from GB but they have no say in GB like other parts of Pakistan. So it’s a challenge for the youth of GB in future who are interested to take part in the practical politics of GB that how can they play their role in political arena of Gilgit-Baltistan to remove above mentioned four hurdles that strangle any movement for political awareness?
The contributor is a Gilgit Based senior journalist and columnist. E-Mail: email@example.com